Wednesday, January 31, 2007

the new Iraqi diaspora

I've written a short piece for Hii Dunia, a blog about development and global politics, about the problems being faced by Middle Eastern countries who are taking in Iraqi refugees, a hugely underestimated issue. A short extract from it follows:

"Two countries, Syria and Jordan, have done the most to alleviate the terrific burdens of the displaced Iraqis. With figures on the rise daily (an estimated 40,000 Iraqis are crossing the border into Syria every month) the statistics are unbelievable. There are over 700,000 refugees in Jordan, upwards of 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and between 20 and 40,000 in Lebanon. For a country such as Jordan such an intake is quite breathtaking, especially when it is taken into account that these are cautious statistics. To put that in context, for a country with a population of only 5.6 million, taking on that many refugees means that the thousands of Iraqi men, women and children there now number more than ten percent of the population, which is the equivalent of over 30 million people arriving on America's shores."
Click here to read more; comments are closed on this post, but do post with any thoughts or comments over at Hii Dunia.

Just a PR exercise?

It gets a lot of critisicm, particularly from the pro-war left, but I have to say that I think the Guardian's Comment Is Free really is a marvellous part of the Guardian website. Why? Because for all the ranty, angry arguments and semi-useless columns, if you stick with it you'll eventually find something remarkable there. Sometimes it's an absolutely brilliant article. Sometimes it's a thoughtful and articulate debate. Sometimes it's both, as is the case with the latest article by Daniel Davies.

He starts with a slightly off-putting premise, that what is needed to help inter-race relationships in the UK is a bit of spin. He even goes so far as to offer David Cameron a little faint praise. But from such inauspicious beginnings he spins out a really tremendous argument, which may not be a workable PR strategy or anything, but it's a beautiful illustration of how badly the government and their allies have got it wrong. He hardly puts a foot wrong, and even shows up regularly in the comments boxes, explaining himself, offering clarifications, making jokes and getting on with everyone. In turn, everyone is nice back, and pretty much everyone makes thought-provoking comments. Brilliant. Davies, meanwhile, is delightfully limpid.

"First, get our Muslim population feeling a lot more positive about Britain and its politics. And second, persuade our Muslim population to come out of their ghettoes and integrate more with the rest of British society, in the vague hope that the more they see of us, the more they'll like us.

Straight off, you can see that this is an uphill job. Among the features of this situation that push it into the "tough sell" category are:

a) We currently don't propose to stop killing Muslims overseas. This is a problem because Muslims here rather sympathise with Muslims elsewhere. You might think that they shouldn't but they do.

b) We're asking them to more or less do all the work; there is no practical proposition for encouraging white people to make an effort to integrate with the Muslims.

c) It was us that put them in those ghettoes in the first place.

d) We're asking them to make a number of fairly fundamental changes to the way they live their social and family life. In the long run, the benefits of liberal society ought to sell themselves, but promoting the switchover is bound to be difficult - look at how much time and trouble have gone into digital television, and this is a bigger change.

This is a tough sell. Luckily, we have our best men on the job. Oh sorry, we don't."
Sadly, this is true. We have John Reid.

Brilliant article.

kill surf city

"I'm embarassed to tell people what I do with my life, to think that what I do is the same as what Eric Clapton does. He's raping it, he's puking on it, he's pissing on it. For that reason I don't want to be a part of it."
Jim Reid, The Jesus and Mary Chain

I'm quite excited by the news that The Jesus And Mary Chain are reforming this summer, if only because I'm on a kind of top-trumps mission to collect live performances of all the bands I liked as a teenager (Lemonheads, check. Dinosaur Jr, check. Wedding Present, check). It would have been lovely, naturally, if they'd gone the whole hog and re-recruited Douglas Hart on bass and Bobby Gillespie on drum (singular) again, but I'm encouraged that they have pulled in one of the best drummers of the 90s, Loz Colbert from the mighty Ride (when's Andy Bell going to admit his horrendous error of judgement in joining Oasis and convince Mark Gardener to descend from the clouds and reform Ride, incidentally?). Alan McGee's useless blog article is rather pointless (although he's probably in on the publishing money, thinking about it), so don't bother with that, and instead marvel at a pic of the band and one of their early live reviews. Remember when the NME was all like this?

The Jesus and Mary Chain, North London Polytechnic - 15.3.85
by Chris Roberts

"CAMP ... INCARNATES a victory of style over content, aesthetics over morality, of irony over tragedy." - Susan Sontag on Camp, 1964.

"A society which deprives people of the hope that things might get better is in deep trouble." Daily Mirror on football hooliganism, March 1985.

Jesuses come and go, and The Mary Chain Boys - brave cowards like most characters in Shakespeare or Genet - are great pop-art, petulant, pretty, shallow, devoid of blonds, into shades, and futile, But they are not mere coffeehouse revolutionaries. In an age (The Good Old Days), when Alison Moyet and Paul Young are afforded critical respect, a lot of fucking around is surely called for.

They are not yet exploiting the media because the real, grown-up media - the one with influence - remains unaware of them. Soon, when they swear on Wogan, this will change.

Tonight's brusque 25-minute dutifully original mangling of 'The Gift' and 'Bodies' provoked a violent (choreographed? manipulated? who gives a shit?) aftermath which though vaguely frightening was predominantly wild and exciting. History. To (immorally?) perpetuate this snowball, they create their own rare and glorious justification - ie, they get a reaction.

With a grace-sozzled Viciousness, amps fly through the air like preconceptions. Rock and roll breathes and twitches again like the third rising of the supposedly slain psyche in a tacky horror movie. They know you're a mess! Clutch at this reborn fantasy of youthful rebellion before the amniotic fluid turns to cellophane; before you're too jaded to fall for it. One last fling? Awful. Gods.

ha ha, look at little Bobby Gillespie! Bless!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

new song

A night spent mostly cooking has meant I've not sat down to read a book or watch telly, or any of the usual things, tonight - but the one thing I have been doing is picking up my acoustic guitar and fiddling around with it; and the product, much to my surprise, is one of the quickest songs I've ever written - I'm sure it's not one of the best, but the words, melodies and chords all came together in about ten minutes, or around three plays through, so that's something of a record. Not wanting to lose it, I spent another twenty minutes making a very rough recording, so I've uploaded it for anyone to listen to if they want: it's short, quite soft, and a bit folky, and is about, er, relationships and stuff. Key lyrics follow; sorry if they're a bit bleak:

"Oh, I know you've got your dreams,
and I've taken them away.
I just bailed. I just bailed.
And they'll just fade away".

Assistant - Bailed (home demo) [2.8mb, right click to save]

Hope you like it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

the environment and assistant

A little more about categories:

Am making good progress with labelling stuff now - I think I'm more than half way through the nine hundred odd posts and some of the category pages are coming together - some are pretty much unpopulated still though. I noticed from my stats that someone, probably Nat, took a look at the environment category this morning, and found only one or two posts there. Should be more than twenty now, as I tried to address that section at lunchtime.

Most of my time has been spent on the posts detailing Assistant, and one thing which comes across very strongly is that fact that over the years we've hosted files for downloading in dozens of different, usually temporary, places - meaning that half of the photo links and pretty much all of the song links in the Assistant archive don't work at all. However, I fixed this last night by finally organising some webspace of my own on which to host files, so in a few days time, once I've uploaded them all and fixed the links in the archive, you should be able to explore the dozens of studio recordings, demos, rehearsal takes and live recordings which I've posted over the last five years. I'll let you know when they're all active, should you be interested, and might re-post some of the best bits.

Sidebar is still, incidentally, short of my list of favourite posts, more than a few links outside, and other bits and bobs. Will get there eventually.

Apologies if all this categorising and restructuring posting is of no interest to anyone but me - doing an overhaul of your possessions (whether they are photographs, journals, songs or plain memories) gives you an opportunity to dig through old thoughts and you invariably find things to talk about as a consequence - even if they are a little self-indulgent. Should be back to normal soon.

nick broomfield and slavery

I'm really keen to see Nick Broomfield's first feature film, Ghosts - Broomfield is one of our finest film makers and he's taken on a fascinating subject, as Stephen Newton points out in chastening prose on his blog:

"I'm not easily moved to tears, but Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts did that trick. They were tears of shame. It’s a film that shows that imperialism is alive and well and that the relatively luxurious lifestyles we enjoy come at a high price to be paid by those who born into foreign poverty.

These illegal Chinese immigrants did the jobs British people would rather not, for wages British people would not accept. They found themselves in meat factories (and we’re reminded that cruelty extends well beyond our treatment of other human beings); tempted into prostitution; working the land. Always they are treated with contempt."
Make sure you read the rest of his post, and take particular note of his mentioning the Morecambe Victim Trust Fund, which has raised £1,306.39 towards the £500,000 needed to clear the victims’ debts. I've just donated*. To quote Stephen again,

"As you dig into your pocket for some spare change, remember how relatively easily you earn your money and how much harder – and more expensive – life would be without the cheap labour of illegal immigrants."

*clarification: I've just tried to donate six times, and each time it refuses to let me, stating that it's not recognising the security code I type in. Either I'm being subconsciously stingy and typing it in wrong on purpose, or there's a problem with the site at the moment. Well, I'll keep trying - hope it works for you.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

segolene royal's gaffes

Just what exactly is happening to Segolene Royal's campaign over in France? Over in the UK we seem to have got so used to perfectly managed political campaigns that it's rather shocking to see how everything seems to be going so terribly wrong for her. It just seems to be a succession of small errors, but if she's not careful they'll really start adding up.

Two gaffes in a week on independence were followed today by another problem - Peter Beaumont, in today's Observer, explains:

"The racial composition of France's national football team burst back into the country's troubled politics yesterday when the Socialist Party expelled one of its leading members for saying there were 'too many black players' in the side.

Adding fresh woes to the presidential ambitions of party leader Segolene Royal, Georges Freche, president of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, a founding member of the party and a Royal supporter, was thrown out for comments made in November."

Going back to the previous errors, the mistakes on Quebec and Corsica were just embarrasing: first Royal got into trouble with the Canadian PM, Stephen Harper after offering her sympathies to those, like Jean Charest, who would like Quebec to secede from Canada. Harper's rebuke was stinging:

"Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country."
On Corsica, another error quickly followed, although in fairness it did come courtesy of a prankster. All the same, she walked into it, choosing not to demur when Gérald Dahan, an imitator known for his phone hoaxes of public figures, suggested that independece for Corsica might be next. Of course, Sarkozy was quick to condemn her, saying her comments were "in bad taste". "For me", he said, "Corsica isn't a joke ... It is the Republic".

These errors are hardly that serious, but Royal is showing a slightly concerning propensity for diplomatic blunders. Far worse was her recent slip in Beijing, where she chose not to condemn Chinese human rights violations but praised the speed of the Chinese justice system. What?

On Iran, Royal was quick to suggest that the country should be prevented from developing a civilian nuclear energy programme, demonstrating that she misunderstood the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which concerns only military uses. Having signed up to the NPT, Iran has the sovereign right to civil nuclear power - something Royal did not seem to realise.

Then was the meeting with a senior Hizbullah politician. Simon Tisdall sums up:

"When Ségolène Royal met a Hizbullah MP in Beirut last month, her relatively limited experience of foreign affairs almost caused an international incident. Ali Ammar told the French Socialists' presidential candidate that the Bush administration suffered from "unlimited dementia". He also attacked what he called modern-day "nazism" in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, Ms Royal was unfazed. "I agree with a lot of things you have said, notably your analysis of the United States," she replied."
Of course, not all the gaffes are Royal's fault - one of her key aides had to resign recently after calling her partner, François Hollande, a liability, "the only defect in her campaign". Some advisor. Jasper Gerard, on the other hand, is minded to agree, suggesting problems are rooted not so much in her advisors as her personal support:

"We hear men are bored of 'trophy wives' as they prefer intellectual stimulation. And I'm sure that's right. But is it time ambitious women bagged trophy husbands? Take Segolene Royal. She was looking good to be next President of France. Then her partner, a rival socialist politico, announced his amour would raise taxes. So brilliantly did this obliterate her poll lead, she could now be spending more time with her family than she might wish. 'Men!' she must scream.

A trophy husband would confine himself to saving the orang-utan. Reporters would coo over his designer suits: 'So cute, he must do Botox.' This is what Cherie thought she had, but turned round to find the little man was PM and being sized up for war crimes.

Though no beauty, Denis Thatcher was a model trophy husband. Once, Maggie's lecturing of a president was interrupted by strange noises. They peered behind a sofa and found Denis snoring. He had a dictionary for drink (snifter, sharpener, snorter, snortorino) but never uttered a word, possibly because he was too pissed. Segolene needs a Denis.
But then perhaps in France you don't need a Denis if you've got a Johnny Hallyday, as Sarkozy does - Royal was recently caught saying that she prefers friends who don't live in tax havens; a cutting remark, although Sarkosy got the press for his comeback, unfortunately:

Sarkozy snapped back that Hallyday was only forced to leave by left-wing laws that meant France welcomed only those who have 'no papers, no training... and no desire to succeed'.

Segolene Royal, let's face it, needs a pretty sharp advisor - a Malcolm Tucker - to keep her on the straight and narrow. And fast. Europe - and France - really doesn't need a Sarkozy presidency, but if Royal keeps going like this that's exactly what it'll have to face up to...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

assistant: half-songs and absences

Gosh, the other thing I realise when I'm going back through old posts to categorise them: I really never blog about my band these days, do I? Must get back into the habit - although 2006 was a very quiet year for the band, for a number of good and bad reasons, we had our first rehearsal for a while quite recently, and I'm gonna make sure I get something else organised soon. In the meantime, I'm stocking up on songs and have been working hard on piecing together demos so that we can get going swiftly once we shake off our apathy phase.

So in the absence of new Assistant material - although I do have some stuff which I will post, actually - I thought I'd post a few demos and bits and bobs, should you be interested; obviously without the rest of the band's input they're often just half-songs, and quite often the lyrics are just placeholders, but taken as drafts they may be worth listening to. You can tell me if not.

Here's a very scrappy demo to get started with then:

Assistant - Foot Forward (demo) [2.75mb, right click to download]

It's deliberately quite loose, going for a loping, shuffling effect rather than something pristine and precise - of the stuff I demoed recently it's probably the least carefully put together; you can hear me get the melodica line wrong on two occasions, I think, and it has no ending and pretty unprepared vocals - I think I was improvising some of them, although the "foot forward / I forfeit" line was planned. Stylistically I guess you can hear a bit of Damon Albarn's Gorillaz type things there, but that's probably just because I'm singing in a flat voice and there aren't many guitars. Anyway - only a sketch really, but hope you like it - and that you hear a full band Assistant version before too long.

rss readers and categories

Anyone out there who is reading my blog through an aggregator like bloglines will have spotted something irritating about this switch-over to blogger beta... as I go through my archives adding categories to my posts, I'm having to re-publish each entry. The consequence of this is that bloglines tells me that I've posted 107 new entries in the last couple of days. I was planning on just adding labels bit by bit over the next few weeks and months, as I've a lot of posts to deal with, but I've just realised that I should probably steel myself to do them all in the next week or so, as otherwise I'm going to fuck up everyone's rss feeders for eternity. How irritating. So I'm sorry if you're unable to read Assistant Blog through bloglines for a few weeks.

Still on the subject of categories, I'm trying to work out how much detail to go into - I run the risk of producing a massively long list of arcane categories which no-one will ever use. Since Dan pointed this out yesterday I've been trying to rationalise, so for example all posts which I initially gave the labels 'islam', 'iraq', 'lebanon', 'iran' etc have now been grouped together as Islam and the Middle East - which is an irritating catch-all term (especially when Iran is arguably not in the Middle East at all) but works better I think. I'll probably go on to do something similar with the other categories, and flag the more interesting ones higher up on the page.

Some of the categories are interesting, mind - I quite like the ones labelled observations and dialogue, and the ones down as friends and drinking are generally quite good fun, if perhaps of more interest to mates than casual readers. Well, if you do take a look around please bear in mind that I've only categorised about a tenth (oh god) of my archives so far.

Friday, January 26, 2007

New look

It's a work in progress - but please let me know what you think.

what i've done so far:
- added category labels to 2007 posts. I'll work back. categories are listed at the bottom of the sidebar.
- swapped over most (but not all) of the old sidebar links. will try to get them all sorted ASAP.
- done a bit of swearing.

No question though, Blogger Beta is really ace.

UPDATE: question - the background, behind the main posts, is supposed to be a very light blue. Can you see it on your monitor? Let me know.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

stuff in the paper

Quite a few interesting articles in the Observer, all worth a read.

Firstly, this is the best article I've read on the Big Brother racism issue (certainly light years ahead of Germaine Greer's idiotic piece in the week) - good stuff from Anushka Asthana:

'This programme has made me question what is racism,' said Roisin yesterday. 'At first I thought this was not it, but the more I thought about it I changed my mind. It is racist to bully someone because they are culturally different.

'But comments like those are made every day, in every town and every city across Britain. It is amazing that people saying them on television has created a global frenzy but I am glad that people are talking about it.'

And so, in the end, am I.
I read somewhere, incidentally, that Teddy Sheringham has called it quits with Danielle Lloyd (whose look of sudden terror when called up on her behaviour, panic glistening in her black evil eyes, was my favourite bit of big brother) - which brings us to football, and a very incisive article about excessive transfer fees, by Amy Lawrence.

"In many ways English players, as well as clubs, are penalised by football's Anglo tax. An inflated price tag can be a hefty millstone to carry around. It was refreshing to see Richards come out last week and speak of his desire to stay at Manchester City, but it cannot be easy to reject a potentially enormous pay rise while in your teens. On the one hand the Shaun Wright-Phillips example looms large, on the other agents and advisers push for big-money moves and remind you that these opportunities are not guaranteed to come along frequently in a career as short and vulnerable as football."
Lastly, a long and bewilderingly bonkers article by Nick Cohen, unamibiguously titled 'How The Left Lost Their Way'. Cohen continues to devote his time to savaging 'the left', something he seems to believe is a coherent, quasi-fascistic and anti-American mass movement. Utterly ludicrous, which is a shame, because he does make good points along the way. I'm tempted to quote the recent 'The Thick Of It' christmas special:

"He looked like that little guy on the green that shouts 'You're an Arab' at everyone".

Friday, January 19, 2007

TV shows online

his post is just nicked wholesale from the always interesting Gromblog, so don't thank me, thank them. Here's the original post.

And here it is again:

"Here's a great resource for when you're bored or want to catch up on some tv shows. There are hundreds of TV Shows available for instant viewing (they stream extraordinarily quickly - virtually no wait for buffering) and you can pick from lots of different sections (select from the drop down channel chooser on the top right of the screen. There are even a load of good recent movies to watch. Very dubious legality but hey, it works very well indeed."

Anyone who wants to point out that I really should, given my job, be more protective about copyright... erm, yeah, good point, but this is telly.

*imagines for a moment that that makes all the difference*

UPDATE: just tried it out, and just wanted to confirm what JennyCide says above - incredible quality and virtually no wait. Wow.

big waves in little brighton

In case you haven't noticed it's been bloody windy recently - have a quick glance at this video, by Clive of 1000 thoughts or less, if you wanna see what it's been like in Brighton. Exciting.

hand wringing and denial

The last film by the makers of last night's 'The Trial of Tony Blair' was last year's Blunkett satire, 'A Very Social Secretary', and given that that piece was a bit of a disappointment - a kind of blunt, heavy Adrian Mole - I wasn't expecting too much of the new film, although that instinct was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that by far the best aspect of that film was Robert Lindsay's unexpectedly brilliant portrayal of the Prime Minister. Last night Lindsay took on the lead role and the film was, rather surprisingly, rather brilliant.

Obviously any film that features Tony Blair being extradited to the Hague on charges of war crimes is pretty close to the ultimate left-wing fantasy, but the film was not merely a document of wish-fulfillment, but also a tightly scripted and brilliantly performed drama, which eschewed - a couple of predictable jokes at Cherie Booth aside - heavy satire in favour of a light comedic touch which saw Lindsay's Blair comically refusing to acknowledge his sins. Set in 2010, with a stubborn Blair finally handing over to a vindictive Brown (whose involvement in the plot admittedly stretches the boundaries of plausibility) and converting to Catholicism, the film's really about the denial of responsibility, although Lindsay, no fan of Blair, gives a sympathetic account of the PM's faults. The answer the film really wants to know, of course, is one we may never find out - whether Blair is haunted by guilt and by the images of the countless dead. In 'The Trial Of Tony Blair', he is. In real life, who knows?

Friday, January 12, 2007

bedroom discos

More lovely writing from Laura Barton in the Guardian today:

"By the age of 16, I knew it took precisely four seconds to hop from my bed to the tape player. I knew just how long it took to rewind the Pixies' Hey. And I would make this little journey, back and forth, back and forth, the way a sparrow collects twigs, as if I were building a nest up there on my eiderdown".

Brilliant as ever.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

more daniel johnston

Just watched 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston' - what a great film, and what lovely songs.

"Though the whole world be blown apart
No matter how dumb or how smart
Still beats beneath the rocky rumble
The dead lover's twisted heart"

You can read more about Daniel here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

the thick and the thin

The Thick of It is unrivalled - the best and most accurate political programme on TV in living memory.

I loved the exchange between the beleaguered and rather old fashioned one nation tory and his savile-row suited spin doctor:

Stewart Pearson: Just wondering whether you're fully conversant with the new line, whether you're really up to speed?
Peter Manion: I don't know. Am I? Because I get people stopping me in the street and asking "are you still for locking up yobbos", and I say, "yeah, of course we are", and then I think, 'or are we?', because maybe I missed a memo from you. Maybe I should understand yobbos now. Or not even call them yobbos. Call them 'young men with issues around stabbing'.
(pause while PM gestures towards his shirt)
PM: No tie, you say?
SP: No tie.
PM: Quite a nice suit actually.
SP: So we were thinking... shirt outside the trousers.
PM: Outside? Not tuck my shirt in? I always tuck my shirt in. It's part of getting dressed.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Queen

The BBC finally got round to showing the The Good, The Bad and The Queen concert which myself, Andrew, Anne-Sophie and Jeanne attended in the autumn, and it was nice to watch it back and marvel over what a lovely new set of songs Damon has written (delicate folky hymns to london with maurauding dub basslines, ace) as well as try to ignore the fact that he had a hissy fit half-way through. Still, what a brilliant band - excited about the album in a couple of weeks.

"Birdsong in the night
The sound drags a net through the twilight
Emptiness in computors bothers me
These are the seas in our minds
We make our own confine in time"

Friday, January 05, 2007

in the dock again

A quick note to direct readers over to the Art of Noise blog, where I am currently on the receiving end of a bit of a thrashing in the 'In The Dock' feature, where I'm trying to defend misyogynistic hip hop against the forces of good. Not having much luck, clearly. Extracts from my - and Caskared's - argument below:

The medium can’t help but be reductive, and there is no moral obligation or accountability to society, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There is an argument that nekked ladies is a celebration of the female form, that not liking it is fusty and the women really want to be nakedy. But is it their choice, and do they also want to be reduced to being at disposable service to the men-folk? Of course some yes, and I’m teetering on the brink of so many huge discussions here... but my basic point for this little rant is that misogynistic hip-hop gives an acceptable face and makes popular the idea that women are only here to look good, and to be subordinate to men, supporting an environment that allows sexism to continue. Calling women a ho, bitch, yeah, funny, only not really.

Hip-hop can be unpleasant in a variety of ways – chiefly in its rampant misogyny. On the other hand, it’s often wildly creative, articulate and honest; it has its roots in celebration and liberation and is often created in an environment of poverty and exploitation. Deriding it as "misogynist hip-hop" means having to ignore a wonderful tradition of black-hearted story-telling, exhibited to stunning effect in songs like Eminem’s ‘Stan’, Biggie’s ‘Things Done Changed’ ("My mom's got cancer of the breast / Now ask me why I’m motherfuckin' stressed") or Slick Rick’s ‘Lodi-Dodi’. Rap may be better WITHOUT sexism, sure, but that’s not the way it works – hip-hop is dark, unique, shocking, offensive, frustrating, sensational.

Arguments in full here.

Now I bet you'll all go and vote for the prosecution, won't you, you sods.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

this life +10

This Life +10 was a funny programme, in the end - not a very good idea in the first place, for one thing; these one-off reunion shows, in my experience, rarely work. If you are seeking to advance storylines and tie up ten year old threads, particularly on a show where a lot happened, then attempting to do so in a little over an hour is a thankless task. If Amy Jenkins and the five actors at the centre of her show were serious about providing a resolution to the two hugely successful This Life series in the mid 1990s, they should have done more than one show, and in doing so could - just as they did initially - illustrate their conflicting actions and emotions in something approaching detail. Instead, last night's show had the feel of a heavily edited omnibus, or - at worst - a thinly sketched out and poorly scripted attempt at a Poliokoff drama.

For all that, Jenkins created a set of enduring characters (although why one of the best, Ferdy, was excluded wasn't really clear) and there were moments in the show - the interplay between Egg and Miles, Anna's rant at the dinner table - that conjured up sparks reminiscent of the old magic. Yet the characters, as befitting such a grand finale, have all become ludicrous caricatures. Egg is a super-successful novelist, and Milly a 'supermum'. Warren - presumably by virtue of his being 'the sensitive one' - is a self-help junkie. Anna is a hardnosed lawyer who specialises in getting hardened criminals acquitted and Miles is a kind of tousle-haired playboy, and a member of the landed gentry, to boot. What's more, he and Anna still have the same old fizz and - guess what - this time she's broody.

Strands of believability snake through an absurd plot. Egg has published one well-received novel but he's already having a high-profile documentary made about him, which conveniently (sorry, absurdly) means that all the characters get to do idiotic reality show style 'video diaries'. This is really stupid. And yet Egg's first novel was just a slightly fictionalised version of his flatmate's lives, and he can't write another. Shades of Amy Jenkins' writing career aside, I kind of bought this; Egg tended to be watching more than acting in the first iteration of This Life, and it's from experiences such as his that hit novels are no doubt borne.

And while Miles is still a buffoon, albeit one who has now lost any edge or believability (even, sadly, as a stooge for Anna, who is still well played by Daniella Nardini), his character gives Warren his one believable characteristic. For although Warren, one short scene in a cafe with Milly aside, is almost unrecognisable, it's through Miles that we occasionally glimpse him. Jenkins gives us just one direct example of his mental distress, but it's a shrewd one, for he is still tortured by the fact that, despite the closeness of the housemates in the orginal show, Miles never welcomed him into the group. Again, believable. Andrew Lincoln, meanwhile, through Egg, provides the occasional nostalgic lightness of touch - his brief asides, usually expressing frustration or bewilderment, are a regular treat.

Elsewhere, however, so much is wrong. It's natural given the power of Anna's character, that Jenkins should wish to return to the issue of career women and whether it's possible to have it all, but why she has to then crowd Anna and Milly into such opposing stereotypes is quite unclear. Equally, in the intervening years - not least thanks to 'The Office' - a decent scriptwriter should have learned a lot about the confusions of love and the premise of the happy ending. But there's nothing endearing about Anna or Miles' scenes together, and that's a travesty after the emotional power of their relationship ten years ago. When Miles, loopily, goes bankrupt and leaves for Timbuktu at the end of the show (I know), there's no chance of a dramatic or emotional ending, and nor does the viewer desire one. Instead, the show ends with Miles shouting 'Love you all' at his friends. Amazing and hilarious, and not in a good way. As for Anna's desperation for a baby, it's all just carried out in such a clumsy fashion - although it does prompt the worst line of the show (and there are a few zingers): "I've chosen Warren as the co-parent".

The little tics, meanwhile, are as annoying as the absurdities of the plot. In one scene Egg and Milly's son swallows a coin. They're frantic with worry. Seconds later he's forgotten and doesn't appear for the remaining twenty minutes. What happened? Did he die? Elsewhere, Egg and Miles embark on a furious argument when the former discovers the latter voted Tory at the last election. Am I the only one who just assumed that all of the characters in the initial This Life were natural tories? OK, maybe not Egg, and Anna might have escaped that burden by virtue of being a Scot, but Jenkins, looking for significance in her original series, is exaggerating things if she felt it presaged and heralded the arrival of New Labour. It was about a bunch of rich lawyers, for god's sake.

And then a few moments which crack and fizzle, a few scenes which remind us why This Life was such a great show. And then you ask, "was it such a great show?". Probably not, but it was loud and brash and rude and funny and, at the time, pretty unique. Amy Jenkins manages to stir up moments of nostalgia, but ultimately adds little to the pot. Never mind - it was nice, despite the flaws, to have it back for the evening. I don't suppose in ten years time there'll be any clamour for a This Life +20, however.

how to tell when a relationship is over

This isn't really funny funny, but it does star a youthful Julian Barrett (from the Mighty Boosh) and I've been feeling guilty about liking so much Noel Fielding's burgeoning double act with Russell Brand, so this gives me an opportunity to redress the balance. (via Gromblog)

back on dry land

Precocious kids get on my nerves, so I wasn't pleased to see that 14 year old Michael Perham has completed his solo navigation across the Atlantic in a 28 foot boat, even if I was slightly impressed. He arrived at Antigua Bay after six weeks alone (but for his dad, trailing him in another boat) yesterday. I warmed to him a little after Channel 4 broadcast his phone conversation with his mum, however, which was a marvellously calibrated example of teenage surliness. No transcript to hand, but it went something like this.

- Mum? It's Michael.
- Oh, hello darling! How are you?
- Fine. I'm just sailing in to Antigua Bay.
- Oh darling! That's wonderful - how much farther do you have to go?
- (exhales noisily) Like, two minutes.
- Two minutes! And is Daddy there, can you see him??
- (snaps) Yeah, he's in the boat right behind.
- Oh, darling, I'm so proud of you, what a wonderful achievement? How do you feel, are you happy?
- (long pause) Yeah mum, I can't really talk for long, OK?


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

out of the axis

One blog I've been reading a while is In The Axis, an excellent blog by Brian Anthony, a teacher who, until very recently, was based in Damascus - his blog is articulate and thoughtful, although rarely overtly political. A recent post on Islamophobia was a little more pointed, and didn't tread over any ground that's not been discussed frequently before, but he did take note of one thing which I hadn't noticed - that the recent, well-reviewed album by Yusef Islam, which has been fairly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, was issued not under the artist's real name, but rather simply as by 'Yusef'.

"Islam has become something of a dirty word in America. In a recent trip to the bookstore, I saw dozens of titles from the full range of security experts, Lebanese Christians, escaped former Saudi princesses, and evangelical Arab apostates all warning us of the immanent danger, the greatest threat to civilization, they're coming to kill your men and violate your women -- Islam."

Brian writes that "I think I grew up in a bubble, a brief period of time where this kind of vilification of an entire people was considered unacceptable. But that is all it was, a bubble, if we consider American history". Sadly, he's probably right.

Eid, meanwhile, prompts Brian's thoughts to wander; he attends his local Sunni community's service. He explains:

"Eid al-Adha is a holiday that marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. In the Christian and Jewish faith, that son was Isaac, but in the Islamic tradition, it is considered to be Abraham's other son, Ishmael. That sacrifice theme finds an interesting counterpoint in the execution of Saddam Hussein a day ago, a counterpoint probably being interpreted very differently between the Sunni and Shia communities."

I've not much to say about Saddam, meanwhile - or rather lots of things I'm not sure I'll get round to formulating. The whole thing is profoundly shoddy, badly executed (both meanings), distasteful, depressing, unsurprising. That the UK government can't issue some kind of serious statement concerning it is just another nasty stain, typical of their conduct. Although I have not the slightest admiration or sympathy for Saddam, to execute him during Eid, to subject him to sectarian abuse, to open the trapdoor before he had the chance to say his prayers - all this just provides motivation for those who argue that the prospect of peace or a peaceful dialogue is as far off as ever, and that barbarism is as much as part of modern Iraq as it was part of Sadamm's. Shameful.